Bringing adventure to the Scottish Borders, the Muckle Toon Adventure Festival is aiming to help revive the small town of Langholm.
Mention of the Scottish Borders conjures up a number of traditional images in people. The untamed beauty of its rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep? The fierce spirit of the Border Reivers running amok in defiance of the King? Or perhaps it's the rugby derbies, fiery soap operas played out in front of passionate crowds?
Sadly though, the vast sheep farms have steadily been curtailed by pine forest plantations, the Reivers have long since been buried with their steel bonnets and the world famous rugby traditions survive despite the collapse of the regions professional team.
In the deep south of the Borders, just six miles from the English boundary, you will find a small town called Langholm (or 'The Muckle Toon if you prefer its ironic historical moniker). Notable for a number of reasons, birthplace of rambling Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, ancestral home of moon-walker Neil Armstrong and headquarters to international knitwear brand The Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Up until the last decade 'EWM' shared the town with 22 other mills and textile manufacturers. All but a handful have since closed down and sent the town into an economic and social malaise augmented by the horrors of the foot & mouth outbreak in 2001 and the current hard hitting, never-ending recession we find ourselves presently well and truly mired in.
However, hope springs eternal and the industrious nature of the townsfolk and their famous community spirit (Scottish community of the Year 2000) has seen a number of innovative and commendable developments in recent years. For example, a former textile mill was turned from an empty carcass into the offices of a successful website design company in 2006; an American TV show was brought in to make-over the local park/picnic area in 2009 and the budding tourist market is being expanded to turn the town into an adventure sports attraction.
In particular mountain biking and cycling seem to be a real pull for the town. For the past five years locals have had access to world class facilities in neighbouring Newcastleton at the Seven Stanes downhill mountain bike course, the Lake District and Kielder Forest facilities as well as routes at the Mabie and Ae forests in nearby Dumfries.
Now though a handful of enthusiasts are launching the Muckle Toon Adventure Festival with a view to putting the town firmly on the radar of the UK's ever expanding adventure sports fan base.
Over three days in May (17th-19th)they have planned two mountain bike routes (15 and 25 miles), three sportives (30, 60 and 90 miles) which in true Border Reiver style will take participants across the border into England and back. For non-bikers there are trail runs (10k and half marathon)and historical guided walks all centered around their "event village" in the town with kids activities, camp sites, stalls and entertainment to boot.
They also have a guest speaker event with record breaking Scottish adventurer Mark Beaumont and they place the "emphasis on fun, socialising and family rather than competition"
For a town that has suffered its fair share of hard times in the past decade it is a truly encouraging development. Langholm's big showpiece event is currently the Common Riding in July, an age old tradition involving many horses, giant heather besoms, elected Cornets and a fish nailed to a stick (I kid you not). Drawing people from around the country every year it is a big celebration of the towns (and regions) history.
However, replace those horses with mountain bikes put it on in May and the Muckle Toon Adventure Festival may just become the new event on the block that bring prosperity, visitors and, dare I say it, hope to a town and a region sorely needing it. Turns out the famous Border Reiver spirit might not be dead and buried after all.
For more information on the Muckle Toon Adventure festival please visit www.mtaf.co.uk